Norwich University, Colby Military Symposium
It is April 8, 2016 and I just finished a whirlwind three days at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. I was invited there as part of Norwich’s prestigious Colby Symposium. The Colby Symposium is an opportunity for select military writers to get together, fellowship, share time and stories, and of course share lessons and insights with Norwich’s student body. It culminates with the presentation of the Colby award for best military book for that year by a first time author. For those that don’t know, Norwich is a private military academy dating back to 1819. I first learned of Norwich a few years ago, when fellow Navy SEAL Chief Brian Bill was killed in combat operations in Afghanistan. Brian was a distinguished graduate of Norwich. So it was humbling and an honor to be asked to come to his school and share my story and lessons learned with the future leaders of not only our military, but future leaders of our nation.
My trip started off with a five hour delay out of America’s favorite airport, La Guardia. As I waited, I bumped into a gentlemen by the name of Benjamin Patton who also was attending the Colby Symposium. We politely talked over the next couple of hours. He told me he was a documentary film maker who had grown up in a military family (this is quite the understatement as you will read shortly) We talked about his non-profit organization, I WAS THERE Film workshops, that he ran, trying to capture the footage of warriors sharing the impacts of war, to help them with Post Traumatic Stress before we finally boarded our flight and headed to Vermont. We finally arrived at the Northfield Inn around 10:30 PM and both of us decided we needed a drink after our smooth day of flying. As we shared wine and a late night snack we continued to talk and I learned, his growing up in a military family translated to, I am the son of Major General George S. Patton III, and the grandson of legendary World War II General George S Patton Jr. As a young warfighter, I about choked on my Chex mix. “Wait a minute, you’re the grandson of Patton?” and thus began my three day adventure at Norwich’s Colby Symposium.
Over the next two days, I met, ate with, and discussed current and world affairs with some tremendous literary minds. Karl Marlantes, is a highly decorated Marine who fought valiantly in Vietnam. He earned the Navy Cross, Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, and 10 Air medals. He came home from war to the hell storm of dissent that was the United States of America at that time, and to quell his invisible demons, he began working on what many call the greatest war novel to ever come out of the Vietnam War, Matterhorn which was the 2011 recipient of the Colby Award. Kirsten Holmstedt, is a writer and the author of Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq and The Girls Come Marching Home, and the soon-to-be-released Soul Survivors. Benjamin Patton, who I spoke of earlier, is the executive director of the Patton Veterans Project along with his Veteran film project. Additionally, he is the author of Growing Up Patton: Reflections on Heroes, History, and Family Wisdom, a memoir about his family’s legacy and his experience as the grandson of General George S. Patton, Jr. Colonel Jon Coffin is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and psychologist with 49 years of military service. A Vietnam veteran, COL Coffin commanded the 3/172nd Infantry Battalion (Mountain) and spent most of the recent wars on active duty traveling to demobilization sites and meeting and debriefing soldiers and units returning from Theater of Operations. Lastly, we had Nisid Hajari, a journalist at Bloomberg who spent 10 years as a top editor at Newsweek International and Newsweek magazine. He has written for the New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, Esquire, Slate, Foreign Policy, Businessweek, and Conde Nast Traveler, among other publications. He recently published his first book, Midnight’s Furies, the deadly legacy of India’s partition. Midnight’s Furies covers the 1947 partition of India and the violence that surrounded that event. Midnight Furies was selected as the 2016 Colby Award recipient.
This was the group of amazing people I spent the last two days with. In addition to great conversation with my diverse author group, I was able to speak to several classes and groups about combat, leadership, and overcoming adversity. The event culminated on Thursday afternoon with a panel in front of about 500 students which covered the topic, Going to War: The cost to families, community, and nation. The students were hungry for knowledge, articulate, inquisitive, and intelligent, and gave me hope that the future of our great nation will be in the hands of these future leaders. With questions ranging from balance between military and family, handling suicide and Post Traumatic Stress, to Patriotism, the diverse panel really gave a breadth of information and answers to these future leaders. I was supremely honored to have been a part of the Colby Symposium and if any of you are ever near Northfield Vermont the beginning of April, I highly recommend you attend. You won’t be disappointed.